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Tennessee was back on the practice field Saturday afternoon, as they begin preparing for their bowl game against Purdue later this month in Nashville. One of the biggest components of practicing today was allowing recruits to get a look at the Vols coaching staff at work. The group is working to finish off this recruiting cycle, as early signing day is quickly approaching on Wednesday.
The coaching staff has been on the road recruiting since the regular season finale against Vanderbilt, looking to find contributors to the 2022 class. But, as the dead period quickly approaches, Tennessee hosted a number of prospects on official visits this weekend, hoping to give them one last look at the program before deciding on their future. Josh Heupel knows how important it is for recruits to see the staff and team at work, especially after not being able to showcase these practices during the season.
“Huge for us. When we started this recruiting process with COVID, we were talking about the things that were going to be inside the building and how we were going to play. This fall, they’ve gotten a chance to see that. Now, the guys that are here at the end of this recruiting cycle get an opportunity to come and see us practice. They get to see the energy inside of our building firsthand. They get to see their position coach talk, communicate and teach through position drills, through the team. I think it’s an awesome time to get the real feel inside of our building every single day. I think it will be a huge part of how we finish this recruiting cycle.”
There has been a lot of discussion over the past few weeks in regards to the early signing period, as some conference commissioners have been going back and forth on if the December period was good for college football. Some of the main arguments have centered around coaching staffs being influx across the country, as we’ve witnessed how crazy this coaching carousel has been over the last month. The main question has centered around how fair it is for prospects to sign with a school, without knowing if that staff would be around after they sign.
Josh Heupel sounded in favor of getting things over with in December, compared to the original signing day in February. It doesn’t sound like Heupel has a problem with the early signing period.
“It is what it is. At this point, I’m excited about it being where it is right now for us inside of this program to be able to finish off the recruiting cycle this way. As early as recruiting gets started – I’m talking about sophomores and juniors – I think it’s good to put a quicker end to the process than being in February.”
Another question that surrounds these bowl games and practices are which players will end up participating. As the decision to declare for the NFL Draft has drawn closer. some players decide to not play in their team’s bowl game, instead focusing on getting healthy and not risking injury. In Tennessee’s case, Alontae Taylor decided to forgo the bowl game, so he could rehab a foot injury that’s been nagging him over the past month. But, Heupel knows he can’t control those decisions and his focus has been on the players participating in practice.
“There are still some guys going through the process of making a decision, what’s right for them and their future. We continue to help them through that process. The guys have been awesome. Whoever ends up showing up, we’re ready to go play, but (we) anticipate having a pretty full roster.”
So, as the team starts getting back into the flow of practice, after having the last few weeks off, it will be key to get back to focusing on the fundamentals. It can be difficult for some players to turn the engine back on, especially after a grueling twelve game season. But Heupel understands that it is key for his players to stay fresh, even during the 15 practices allotted to every team.
“I think the biggest thing is bowl preparation not getting stale, getting some good-on-good work so that they have an understanding of the tempo and they’re accustomed to it and then your players being as fresh as they possibly can mentally and physically when you get to the bowl site and the bowl game.”
So, as the dead period begins Sunday morning and recruits head back home to make decisions about their future, Heupel is hoping the hard work has paid off. As he took to the podium on Saturday, you could tell the Tennessee head coach was encouraged about how things have gone the last few weeks.
“Great time for our program, a lot of things going on. Ready to go finish off this recruiting class. Spent a couple of good weeks out on the road, our staff and myself, and excited about finishing it off here this weekend and through the early part of next week.”
They will now nervously wait for potential recruits to sign their names on the dotted line and fax in that paperwork starting on Wednesday. But, they are also looking to cap off the season with their 8th win, which would make this first year in Knoxville a further success.